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Thursday, October 24, 2019


Curtains for Dharma?


Jolted by a TSI sting, a CBI team walks into TSI's office searching for clues; are they looking in the right place?
TSI EDIT BUREAU | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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Curtains for Dharma? 15.30 hours Indian Standard Time. Date: 2 May 2007. People wilting under the onslaught of a savage summer in Delhi have a respite.

Thundershowers, clouds, lightning and that oh so soothing breeze have reduced temperatures-both meteorogical and emotional. Inside the offices of The Sunday Indian in Qutab Institutional Area in South Delhi, the largely young editorial team is oblivious to all this – working with characteristic frenzy to bring out the Family Special that you hold in your hand. Deadlines are disappearing and drifting clouds be damned. Into this medley and chaos walk in two men who look as if they have been walking unannounced into places for quite a while. The office factotums get into a tizzy when they drawl nonchalantly that they are CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) officials and that they have come to issue summons to two of our editorial colleagues. As per the summons, our colleagues need to help the CBI in the sensational matter of fake Nepalese passports that the previous issue of TSI (dated 6 May 2007) had exposed in a sting operation organised in collaboration with news channels CNN-IBN and IBN7. The man (call him dalal, lynchpin, fixer or organiser) Dharma Kumar Poudel, who sold us the fake passports and a visa for Cuba (all allegedly legal by the way) has been arrested by the CBI. The investigative agency is doing what most investigative agencies do. But Dharma is not singing. So the CBI hopes that roping in journalists might help them crack the case.

Some TSI staffers get excited; some others get nervous. And one of the office assistants is sorely disappointed that the CBI officials, one of whom is casually flaunting a T-Shirt and a jean, are not looking intimidating enough. For the senior editorial team at TSI, feelings of puzzlement eventually give way to modest jubilation. The impromptu back slapping is not because the CBI has sauntered into the TSI office (have you ever heard of anyone celebrating when law enforcement officials invade their premises?!). Our thoughts are: finally the big boys of the Indian law enforcement have woken up to this menace of fake passports that is a grave threat to India’s security. Not to speak of the security of its citizens.

But as we huddle together and try to enact Keystone Cop scenarios, we all have a question: What can a magazine offer to the CBI, an investigative agency that commands resources, man power, muscle power and judicial access that we can only dream of? As the office assistant serves coffee, iced tea and orange juice, he blurts out yet again that the CBI officials look like regular guys. His homily is a big help in persuading some colleagues that the CBI is not part of a sinister conspiracy that is out to ‘fix’ the messenger. That also silences a few hotheads who want to make a song and dance about the sanctity of media.

So we decide that TSI will do everything ethically, editorially and morally acceptable to help the CBI in cracking how so many terrorists, criminals and fugitives can manage to use fake passports to get away with murder and more. For readers of TSI, here is a gist of what we have offered to the CBI to help it crack the case and nab the masterminds behind this deadly racket. Dharma was the kingpin of a massive racket which used to make anything from 100-150 passports (many of them Indian) and 45-50 visas every month. He had at least 15 people working from him in Delhi. He was staying in a Paharganj hotel in Delhi for over two years. He used to get hundreds of original booklets of Nepalese passports from Kathmandu in connivance with officials of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal – used to stamp them here and make a fast buck, a substantial portion of which was obviously being channeled back to Nepal.

Dharma also told TSI before his arrest that he used to change photographs from stolen Indian passports to send people abroad illegally. He also claimed that he had been bribing immigration officials at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, to facilitate smooth passage for his “clients”. At one point he even bragged that the BJP MP Babubhai Katara too was using the same contacts as him but was caught as he failed to make “timely payments”. That 35 fake passports were recovered from Katara shows the volume of trade. Dharma claimed Katara was not the only MP in this trade. He could bet that except for Katara, who was arrested redhanded only a couple of days before the TSI expose, no one else will be caught as the respectable people who were neckdeep in it, had long tentacles in the establishment.

Can the CBI overlook the swiftness with which Dharma delivered two passports within a week and then a Cuban visa almost in four days without any formality or presence in front of Cuban embassy required. Retd IB Joint Director M.K. Dhar warns on the complacency. He finds this racket of fake Nepalese passport and visa racket very dangerous. He says, “It is a very serious security threat. Any jihadi element from Pakistan and Bangladesh can sit as a sleeper cell or module and strike and use the escape rout of Nepal”. He further adds “Kathmandu has become a very important escape route”.

When TSI spoke to K.V. Rajan, former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, he said it is a matter of worry and this has increased due to the turmoil in Nepal. He says, “People are trying to get out of the predicament in Nepal. India is being used to find a safe haven in other countries and thus this activity of fake visa and passport has increased. Once Nepalese are not able to get it done in Nepal, they rush these people and get one made”. He accepts the prevalence of agents making fake passports in India.

By the time the CBI officials saunter away, the thunder showers have stopped and the sun is blazing without any mercy. Our editorial colleagues reluctantly disperse to their terminals, once again cursing the deadlines that have short circuited their excitement.

But they all had one niggling question: can TSI help the CBI plug a serious threat to India’s security or was the visit akin to ‘friendly’ neighbourhood cops dropping by to advice an activist citizen to cool things down? Time never tells. Perhaps readers of TSI can.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017